Cynthia Andrew, blogger of SimplyCyn, had a pair of photos taken two years ago in Italy in which an elderly couple touches her naturally curly hair while Andrew playfully smiles and giggles. The photos have since been reposted by others without any background to give them context, which has led some to write negative comments about the couple’s gesture.
Reflecting on the day when the photos were taken, Andrew shared with Yahoo Beauty that while she and her husband were people-watching in Rome, they came into contact with the other couple. “I can’t recall who spotted who first, but there was a group of two elderly couples, they looked over at us and smiled,” she says. “Then, one of the women walked towards me in what I think was amazement — just big eyes. She touched her own hair while looking at mine and said, ‘Bellissima‘ [meaning “gorgeous” in English], and came closer, looking me in the eye as if she was checking to make sure it was OK. I smiled right back, and funny enough, I don’t recall what other words that were exchanged, if any.”
Once the couple began to touch Andrew’s hair, the photos of them all were taken, capturing the moment.
Andrew shared the photos two years ago, but because of all the negativity that followed, she decided to repost them on Instagram to add more context and clarify her own personal thoughts about the photos. A portion of her caption read, “This lovely couple’s only fault is that they were unaware that their gesture is one that stirs up so many real and justified feelings of objectivity, judgment and dehumanization for many black women. But I think here is where intent is important, and this is where we have to be careful about who we condemn.”
She continued, “We can continue to educate our non-black friends why this gesture carries more weight than they realize, but we should be careful not to vilify people so quickly. We should reserve that energy for those who are much more deserving of it — there’s quite a few of them out there showing their faces.”
In a matter of hours, Andrew’s post has sparked conversation and gained traction with more than 6,000 likes. Many people agreed with her sentiments by leaving comments such as, “I appreciate this. Most times, there’s never harmful intentions” and “This is so important, very well said.”
But there were others who didn’t necessarily agree with Andrew and left opposing comments: “I’m a little torn by this post … I think your perspective is refreshing and perhaps needed in this climate; however, I’m not sure I 100% agree.” Someone else simply wrote, “yes agree this is definitely not acceptable no matter if they were nice about it or curious. Your hair is sacred.”
So what’s Andrew’s response to all the back and forth surrounding her photos? “We all see and experience the world differently, and I respect all opinions,” she tells Yahoo Beauty. “I appreciate the dialogue and perspectives I didn’t consider. However, I do draw the lines at generalizations about groups of people and attacks. Someone shared that she did not think she had to be the one educating others, and I agreed with her. I’ve decided that I would prefer to handle these situations as such, but no one has to do anything they don’t want to. If you don’t want someone in your space, in your hair — they shouldn’t be.”
The underlying issue is that many people are unaware of why this kind of behavior from people who are nonblack can be problematic and how it hits a sensitive spot for women of color. “Let’s remember our history as black women, being put on display and sold,” Andrew says. “For so long we’ve been judged on the texture of our hair and it not being beautiful — recall the ‘nappy-headed’ comment from a while back. It’s also about respect and personal space — so you can imagine feeling like you are being disrespected when someone enters your personal space and touches your hair.”
She continues, “There are so many layers to this, and it’s important that people know it comes from a very real place.”
Andrew’s initial intent had nothing to do with attempting to create a debate; it was more about putting a fresh perspective out there and demonstrating that everything doesn’t come from feelings of malice. “I just think we need more images and conversations about how we walk through this world together,” shares Andrew. “That’s how we get better. It’s not about seeking validation or admiration. It’s just that as an American, an African, a black woman, a child of the world, who has seen beauty in every shade, race, and culture, I want people to see a beautiful moment between two strangers and to remember that most of us — the majority of us — are good, kind people.”
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